Sleep Aides

Are Sleep Aids Safe?

When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it can throw your entire day off. When lack of sleep becomes chronic, you may want to turn to a sleep aid. Is that a good idea?

Per Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine at Riverside Healthcare, there’s definitely a market f

Kathleen Gallagher, Manager of Pulmonology in the Riverside Sleep Center.

or it. In 2022, it was estimated sleep aids were about a $78 billion business, globally. By 2032, it’s supposed to grow to be a $131 billion business.

“The demand is going to be for people to create better drugs or other types of sleep aids to help people sleep, because some of the things out there people develop a tolerance to,” states Gallagher.

Potential Dangers of Sleep Aids

Sleep aids are not designed to be taken long term. When a tolerance occurs, people tend to increase the dosage, which can lead to undesirable effects. For example, a “hangover” effect the next morning because the sleep aid is still lingering in one’s body. People might feel lethargic and dizzy, with a loss of coordination. Gallagher cautions about getting behind the wheel—driving to work or dropping the kids off at school—because those symptoms very well could lead to an accident.

Another danger is that some sleep aids interact with other medications. It’s important to speak with your primary care provider, or pharmacist, to understand potential interactions—particularly if taking over-the-counter dietary supplements that are not regulated by the FDA (e.g. melatonin, valerian root).

Strategies for Better Sleep

One approach Gallagher advises is to try to uncover the underlying reason for lack of sleep or poor quality sleep. Acute insomnia could be due to a life event; perhaps a death in the family or severe illness. As time passes, this type of sleep loss typically resolves on its own. Chronic insomnia is a different story—one that requires regular management strategies.

“I really suggest relaxation techniques. You need to set yourself up for sleep,” she notes. “Find that time to unwind before you go to bed. Listen to soft music. There are many apps out there, which are great for listening to music or other calming sounds. Guided meditation for sleep is something I always recommend because it helps you turn off what you’re thinking about. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is another approach.”

Some of these techniques people can try on their own. Yet, if they’re not working, it’s time to consult with a physician—ideally a doctor trained in sleep medicine. They have the knowledge and tools to get to the root of the problem and also find a viable solution. If something like a prescription sleep aid is recommended, it’s also important to understand the parameters surrounding length of use and dosage.

“You don’t want to just stop taking something, depending on what it is you’re taking, because you might have to gradually reduce it. Work with your provider to do that,” urges Gallagher. “Even if you remain on it, keeping regular visits with your doctor is a good idea.”

Everyone Deserves Good Sleep

The most important takeaway Gallagher offers is that help for insomnia or poor sleep is available. Don’t let lack of sleep disrupt your life any more.

“When I talk to people out there, teens on up, nobody is getting enough sleep. I think we are our worst enemies. I’ve been guilty of staying up to watch that next episode on a series, because I want to see what’s going to happen even though I know I’m cutting my sleep short. We’re all guilty of it. If we really just consciously make the effort to change, we might feel better the next day.”

For more information about Sleep Medicine at Riverside click here.